Since Gaye’s Got To Give It Up is in two parts, I thought it would be fitting to make my post in two parts.
I knew that a lot of folks would be pissed off at the first line of my previous piece being, “Wow, another case of a White dude stealing Black music.” And that would color the way some folks would read and interpret the rest of the piece, but, when I think about what’s so fucked up about it, the White part is it.
Let me explain why . . .
To this point, Robin Thicke has built his celebrity around Black music, and the core of his fan base is Black people—Black women in particular. I recall seeing an interview of Thicke on TV One years ago where he said explicitly that Marvin Gaye was his favorite vocalist. That really resonated with me, as anyone who knows me, knows that Marvin is my fave, as well. And after Miles Davis, he is my favorite musician, period.
It is incredulous to me that someone who owes a tremendous debt of gratitude for his success to the Black community, and who has a Black wife, and biracial kids, could be as callous to sue Marvin Gaye’s estate as a preemptive strike against his blatant theft of Gaye’s material. All respect due to Funkadelic, but I hear no resemblance to their song Sexy Mama, as some suggest.
The “White Man stealing Black music” is cliché, really, but we never should become so desensitized to wrongdoings that we simply let it pass by unacknowledged. To those who say Pharrell was complicit in the plagiarist act, I say, yes, but it’s ultimately Thicke’s record and the onus is on him to do what is right. Besides, Black men have typically sold out their brothers and ancestors for a piece of silver. Just this year alone, Russell Simmons publicly disrespected Harriet Tubman, and Lil’ Wayne, Emmett Till. Two iconic, Black ancestors exploited and used for laughs and shock value. But that’s where we are with it today; everything’s a meme, and no one is above being a target.
And the whole argument that Pharrell’s participation makes it less racially offensive, is very similar to when Whites pull out the “Well, Zimmerman’s not White,” card or the “Well, the Black community doesn’t get as upset about Black-on-Black crime as they have the Trayvon Martin case?”
Racism is not about an individual act; it’s a collective system that hands out rewards and privileges to Robin Thicke that Marvin Gaye never got to enjoy.
“Pharrell and I were in the studio and I told him that one of my favorite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up.’ I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove.’ Then he started playing a little something and we literally wrote the song in about a half hour and recorded it.”
— Robin Thicke
So, Mr. Thicke, how do you go from knowing you “composed” a song something like Marvin’s, to suing his estate to protect your ass? See the problem is that he knows—legally—he didn’t steal any copyrightable elements. Since groove, chord progressions, rhythms, blues and vibe are not legally copyrightable, he technically didn’t steal the song. In other words, of all the things that are indicative of Black music, the most important elements are not able to be copyrighted. Another example of African ideals being seen as invalid through the Western/European lens.
Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right. George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murder, but that doesn’t mean his act wasn’t morally wrong. The problem with the American justice system is that any act is both legal and illegal. What side of the law you might find yourself all depends on who you are, who you know, and how much money you have.
Robin Thicke is the George Zimmerman of copyright infringement. By suing the Gaye estate, he evoked the musical equivalent of Stand Your Ground.
I think what needs to happen here is a rewriting of copyright law. But then again, even when someone directly samples your recorded work—as in the case of flautist James Newton vs. the Beastie Boys—you still might come up short. Because Newton is a Black man who played music imbued with the Black aesthetic, the judge ruled that the 3 notes, albeit important in Mr. Newton’s composition, were not enough to constitute a song. Not only did James Newton lose his case, but I think the Beastie Boys wound up suing him. Sound familiar?
This all plays into the narrative that when you’re Black in America, there is not value to your life or your creations. Not only do your possessions not belong to you, but you don’t belong to you. You don’t own anything. You are a slave.
“We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.’ People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.’ ”
— Robin Thicke
I also think it’s interesting that he openly admitted to degrading women in the video and had this summer’s biggest hit, whereas Rick Ross lost endorsements and became the whipping boy of feminists for glorifying rape culture by talking about putting a molly in a girl’s drink unbeknownst to her and having his way, as a result. It’s cute when a White matinee idol does it, but let a big Black guy do it, and everybody’s in a tizzy.
What’s also quite revealing here is that the song, in which Mr. Thicke committed a cultural crime against Marvin Gaye, has been his entrée and acceptance into the Pop world. He went from being a fairly popular Urban artist to a mainstream sensation, overnight. He may take this as encouragement to continue in this fashion. Why not? His shenanigans have done nothing but made him an even bigger star.
As a White man, I know Thicke is not personally responsible for what his ancestors did, nor should he necessarily feel guilty by virtue of being labeled “White,” but when he turns around and steals from a Black artist whom he purports to admire, he’s no better than his White predecessors. He’s following in the footsteps of all the other White cats who stole Black music and their money.
Don’t just pay tribute; pay royalties.
— Nicholas Payton
In business, the way you show respect is through financial support.
So, I know many of you are tired of hearing it, but many of us are tired of it happening. So, to you White folks, who get upset every time a Black person calls out racism—just pause—and imagine how we must feel.
On the heels of Marvin’s song, Thicke has broken the record for the highest radio listeners ever recorded—ever—and reached No. 1 in 102 countries. He’s got the greatest radio ratings ever, and not only does he refuse to give a portion to the Gaye estate, but he sues. Wow.
He’s missing a golden opportunity to pay back an artist he’s indebted to. Instead, he’s decided to just rip him off.
I ain’t mad, nor am I surprised, but I am disappointed. Thicke should know better. And unless he apologizes, and pays a percentage to the family, Blacks should stop financing his career.
— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop